A Republican state legislator and a man who claims to be a "former homosexual" have teamed up to support an anti-gay-marriage amendment to the Minnesota constitution.
The group -- called the Pro-Marriage Amendment Forum -- is just one example of the deep ties between backers of the marriage amendment and the "ex-gay" movement. The connections have left some LGBT advocates wondering if it's not just gay marriage these groups are opposing, but rights for LGBT people as a whole.
"Ex-gay" therapy is a controversial practice that involves efforts to help gays and lesbians either abstain from relationships with partners of the same sex or engage in heterosexual relationships. Most mainstream psychological, medical, and counseling organizations have criticized the therapy as harmful due to its very limited success rates and studies showing it may lead to depression or suicide.
Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, a Republican who represents the city of Glencoe about an hour southwest of Minneapolis, and Kevin Peterson, a man who says he was gay until the age of 33, started the Pro-Marriage Amendment Forum in order to raise money in support of the amendment. They are planning to show a series of Powerpoint presentations around the state.
Neither gentleman responded to requests by The American Independent for further information about the organization, but both did appear on the Late Debate, a conservative-libertarian radio program based in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul, last week.
"Kevin and I formed a 501(c)(4), and the purpose is to advocate and educate people regarding the upcoming vote in November," said Gruenhagen. "It's a 501(c)(4). You can make contributions to that org, but they are not tax deductible. There's a place to donate; all the money is going to be used to cover expenses for getting out the information regarding the upcoming marriage amendment especially in the area of economic benefit to marriage and the consequences to our educational system."
Kevin Peterson told his story of marrying a woman after a decade and a half of being gay. He said men become "homosexual" because they have strong mothers and no father figure. He did not put forth a theory of how women become lesbians.
Radio host Ben Kruse, a conservative who opposes the anti-gay-marriage amendment, asked, "So you are in the camp that you are not born this way?"
"Yes. That's correct," Peterson responded.
Peterson said that deceased sex researcher Alfred Kinsey "should have been locked up and perhaps executed for his crimes," prompting the radio hosts to ask Peterson to explain his rhetoric.
Peterson said that Kinsey produced "fraudulent data" and "raped infants and little boys and caused a major shift in pop psychology by the mid-20th Century."
Peterson said his days as a gay activist taught him about how dishonest gay people are. "They are never satisfied with victory," he said, adding that after marriage equality "then it will be lowering the age of consent."
That prompted a strong reaction from the radio hosts.
"I do not like tying homosexuality to pedophilia. I think that is a bad road to go down," said Kruse.
"Why?" asked Peterson.
"Because homosexuality has nothing to do with children, so don't bring that into it," Kruse responded.
Though Peterson didn't speak much about PMA Forum or the marriage amendment, the group's website contains some important information about it.
The group is raising money to pass the amendment, according to the website: "The financial support of friends like you enables us to reach the average voters of Minnesota to explain the importance of voting for Minnesota's 2012 Marriage Amendment."
The group has not yet registered with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, but it may have to.
Minnesota statutes say that "an association other than a political committee or party unit may not contribute more than $100 in aggregate in any one year... to promote or defeat a ballot question unless the contribution or expenditure is made from a political fund."
From the website and Gruenhagen's statements on the Late Debate, the organization clearly exists to urge voters to vote in favor of the marriage amendment.
The PMA Forum, according to the website, "was organized to educate and mobilize Minnesota voters in the public arena regarding the benefits of the Marriage Amendment that will be on the ballot on November 6th of 2012... Gruenhagen and Petersen believe that even the voter who plans to vote for the amendment needs to understand why he is doing so and how to persuade others to do the same."
The website also says, "Kevin is meeting with people all over Minnesota to explain the vital need to pass the marriage amendment now 'or we’ll never have another chance!'"
Peterson is not new to controversy in Minnesota. Earlier this year, he testified before the Anoka-Hennepin School Board, saying that the LGBT community is attempting to recruit children.
That school district was embroiled in a heated debate over a policy that limited discussions of LGBT issues in the classroom, a controversy that abated earlier this month when the board repealed the policy.
Peterson wanted the board to keep the anti-LGBT policy.
“I used to be gay, back in the ’80s and ’90s,” he said. “I used to be a member of Act Up and marched in a few gay pride parades.”
“I was trying to get our agenda into high schools and even elementary schools,” he added.
Peterson claimed that most people who are LGBT don’t want to be.
“Most people with same-sex attraction don’t like this about themselves and don’t want to act on those attractions,” he said. “In other words most homosexuals are not gay, and we gay activists knew that it was very important to reach those sexually confused people. We wanted the young guys to know that they shouldn’t be confused about those attractions that they should understand that they can’t possibly change and gay is good.”
He said it was all about recruitment.
“What I was doing in effect was recruiting them to be gay and get into the lifestyle. That’s what happened to me when i got into college.”
'Ex-gay therapy' a part of the movement?
Several of the groups advocating for the marriage amendment are also advocating that gays and lesbians should ask their God to help them become heterosexual.
The Minnesota Catholic Conference is a member of the Minnesota for Marriage, a coalition of groups that are urging Minnesotans to vote for the amendment. The conference is the public policy wing of the Roman Catholic Church in Minnesota.
The Catholic Church runs a program called Courage in the Twin Cities, a program that is sanctioned by the Pope. Kevin Peterson, who founded PMA Forum, said he went through the Courage program in Minneapolis.
The Minnesota Catholic Conference has posted a series of articles from an "ex-lesbian" named "Peggy" on its "Marriage Matters" blog. That blog is a clearinghouse of information dedicated to passing the marriage amendment.
In a post last November, she wrote that people in same-sex relationships aren't real Catholics.
"As a practicing Catholic, I understand, know and believe that marriage is between one man and one woman," she wrote. "Professing a Catholic lifestyle in a same-sex relationship is simply incongruent."
In another post titled, "I am more than my sexuality," Peggy imparts the virtues of her life as an "ex-lesbian."
"Today, my life is different, my thinking is different, and yes, my choices are different. I took the opportunity 11 years ago to leave a same-sex relationship behind and seek the Lord’s ideal plan for me," she wrote. "And through building healthy relationships with men and women, regular meetings with my spiritual director, regular confession and some good ‘ole therapy, I honestly do not struggle with same-sex attraction anymore."
In another post, Peggy related the moment she decided to "change."
One day my friend said to me: “Peggy, what if you’re wrong? What if the way you are living your life won’t get you to heaven? What if the Catholic teaching on homosexual acts is true? Are you really willing to risk your soul on it?”
This question put life into a different perspective for me. It changed the goal. If my goal was heaven, then I really needed to take a look at what I was doing.
Peggy also came out against same-sex marriage and in favor of the marriage amendment.
"It leaves me wondering how exactly extending the civil definition of 'marriage' to same-sex couples truly helps society as a whole when that change would affect such a small percentage of Minnesotans (10,207 households are same-sex couples in Minnesota, according to the 2010 Census)," she wrote. "This is compared to more than a million husband-wife households who would have the public definition of their relationship altered so that their benefits could be extended to same-sex couples. After all, civil benefits for married households are fundamentally meant to support and promote the ideal environment for the raising and rearing of children, our future citizens."
Another member of the Minnesota for Marriage coalition, the National Organization for Marriage, has dabbled in the realm of "ex-gay therapy." Last fall, Equality Matters, a project of Media Matters for America, noted that NOM was promoting research from ex-gay groups.
The Minnesota Family Council also advocates "ex-gay" therapy. The group has also spearheaded the effort to get the marriage amendment on the 2012 ballot. It began those efforts in 2003 and is a part of the Minnesota for Marriage coalition.
The group did an interview with Kevin Peterson back in 2002.
"The fact that homosexuals are at a greater health risk in these (and other) areas is especially unsettling when one considers that those who lead this lifestyle have the choice of leaving," wrote the Family Council's Aaron Hall. "After years of living the gay lifestyle and marching in gay pride parades, Kevin commented on how his life changed, 'The Holy Spirit breaks the heart of stone very well, and that's what he must have done with me because I refused to let God in. If he gets in there he's going to change your life around. Somebody must have been praying for me because the Holy Spirit got in there and made me question all of this gay theology.'"
The Minnesota Family Council sponsored the 2004 Love Won Out conference in Minneapolis. That conference was run by Focus on the Family. Love Won Out says it exists "to help men and women dissatisfied with living homosexually understand that same-sex attractions can be overcome."
In an article on the group's website that has been recently taken down, the group said the conference was about teaching "the nature and origins of homosexuality, how to respond to homosexual family members and friends, methods for reversing homosexual tendencies, and means to resist societal gains that homosexual activists are chalking up."
Tom Prichard, MFC's president, said that "ex-gay" therapy is “a complicated issue, but while complex, shows that people can change. Homosexuality doesn’t define who one is, which is a critical message the public needs to hear about.”
Prichard's group also sponsored a 2000 conference by Love Won Out.
Another removed article, penned by Prichard, praised the ex-gay movement.
"The 'Love Won Out' conference on helping people leave homosexuality was a tremendous success," he wrote. "The ex-gay movement is the critical response to the homosexual movement from both a personal and societal perspective. The fact that people can leave homosexuality devastates the myth that there is no choice and therefore individuals and society should embrace homosexuality."
From 2003 until she won a seat in Congress in 2006, the anti-gay marriage amendment was the top issue for Rep. Michele Bachmann, who was at the time a state senator.
Last year, John Becker of Truth Wins Out, an organization formed to confront the "Love Won Out" conferences as well as the broader "ex-gay industry," went undercover in the Bachmann family counseling clinic and found that the clinic conducted "ex-gay therapy."
That information sparked protests and an unflattering news cycle for Bachmann, who was a presidential contender at the time.
Becker told The American Independent that the endorsement of this type of therapy by every major backer of the marriage amendment "should send shivers up the spine of every fair-minded Minnesotan."
"Amendment backers claim to want a 'respectful debate' about marriage equality, yet they gravely disrespect their fellow Minnesotans by aligning themselves with the 'pray away the gay' fraud," he said.
Becker also said that the therapy is dangerous.
"This depraved form of 'therapy' has been rejected by literally every single mainstream organization of medical and mental health professionals because studies have shown that it doesn't work and actually increases anxiety, depression, and suicide in patients," he said.
He added that the fact that so many proponents of the anti-gay-marriage amendment have also supported the "ex-gay" movement shows that the motives behind the amendment are not solely about banning same-sex marriage.
"By embracing the myth that sexual orientation can be changed, amendment proponents are showing their true colors," he said. "The endgame isn't simply the exclusion of loving same-sex couples from marriage. They won't stop until LGBT people are relegated to second-class status in every aspect of society."